Alamo Drafthouse, the Texas-based theater chain that has been long besieged by claims of impropriety, is now the subject of a new, wide-ranging expose at the Kansas City weekly The Pitch. The story alleges a litany of abuses perpetrated by both the management at the chain’s Kansas City locations and corporate brass across the business. These include sexual harassment and abuse, racist attitudes toward customers, unsafe (and often illegal) work environments, and even stories about ticket sales being shorted to add to Drafthouse’s own coffers.
Alamo has 41 locations in 10 states. Theater amenities include in-theater eating and drinking, specialized programming to supplement studio wide releases, and its signature audience-control rules (i.e. no talking during films). The Kansas City location is one of Alamo’s company-owned core cinemas, rather than a franchisee.
In September of 2017, IndieWire reported on allegations of sexual assault and harrassment from five women against former Alamo Drafthouse associate and Ain’t It Cool News founder Harry Knowles. Further reports, including a 2018 deep-dive report from Splinter shared more stories of a company that allegedly minimized a variety of sexual assault and harassment allegations, made against both patrons and employees, for many years.
The Pitch reports that despite promises from co-founder Tim League, who embarked on a listening tour of various locations in the wake of the 2017 allegations, little has changed within the company. More than 30 current and former Alamo Drafthouse employees, from the KC location and from Alamo Drafthouse corporate, contributed to the story, which includes allegations both before and after 2017.
The new story focuses on the experiences at Kansas City’s Mainstreet location and in a number of instances alleged victims say that corporate was alerted to issues. These allegations include claims that managers sexually and physically abused employees and were never disciplined; employees who were injured on the job and were never properly accommodated; and reports that managers targeted predominantly Black audiences when enforcing its “no talking” rule.
The Pitch story also alleges that the location would participate in “voiding ticket sales to shorten certain films’ engagements at their theater (ensuring a better release for a new movie the following week), and to keep the money from that film in the company’s pockets.”
In late April, the company announced the hire of a new CEO in former Starbucks executive Shelli Taylor, who most recently served as president of United Planet Fitness Partners. Former CEO League became the chain’s executive chairman. An Alamo Drafthouse employee confirmed to IndieWire that as part of the ongoing process to deal with the issues of culture at the company, Taylor was tapped as CEO and is restructuring the management and executive teams.
The Pitch article shares portions of an email that the new CEO sent to the chain’s staff on July 24, which promised increased support for employees through a variety of means; Alamo Drafthouse provided the email to IndieWire and we’re sharing it in full below.
From: Shelli Taylor
Date: Fri, Jul 24, 2020 at 4:34 PM
Subject: a message from my heart
The uncertainty of the past four months has led to reckonings and difficult discussions within industries, organizations, and companies all over the world. As many of you are aware, that includes the cinema industry, and it also includes our company.
At the same time, over the past few weeks we’ve seen some current, furloughed, and former teammates discussing their experiences at the company publicly, via social media, and it is deeply disturbing and troubling. We don’t know the details or timeline of many of these allegations – some appear to be recent, while others seem to date back many years. Regardless, they are painful stories of disappointment, frustration, and failings within our culture. We may have been unaware of some of these accounts, some of them may not have been handled properly, but regardless, we want to hear your story and urge you to come forward and report any misconduct to the People department by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (877) 892-2193.
I wanted to take this opportunity to make it absolutely clear – there is no place for abuse or harassment of any kind at Alamo Drafthouse.
To anyone victimized while they’ve worked for Alamo Drafthouse – I am very sorry, and I promise that things are going to change. People who violate our Code of Conduct and engage in this kind of behavior must and will be held accountable.
I’m aware that we made strides in dealing with workplace behavior since after 2017, but we must do even more. Investing in our people and fostering a safe, healthy environment is my number one priority. I spent 20 years of my career at companies like Starbucks and Disney and they have helped to shape my leadership priorities in this area. If we can evolve our culture we can do extraordinary things together and Alamo Drafthouse will re-emerge from this pandemic stronger and with even greater purpose.
Although most of us are sheltering in place at our homes, my number one priority for when we return to work is to ensure that you are all going back to a safe and hospitable working environment. An environment similar to what our guests experience and love about Alamo Drafthouse, and what got me excited about becoming CEO a few months ago.
I wanted to outline additional concrete actions we’re undertaking to restore our culture and ensure we all return to work in the best possible working environment:
For the past 90 days, I have engaged in one-on-one meetings and roundtables, as well as reviewing Workday pulse surveys and individual Workify comments to hear everyone’s stories, hopes, and expectations of Alamo Drafthouse with the intention of synthesizing feedback into a comprehensive workplace culture strategy moving forward. I am excited to continue these surveys and discussions when our venues are able to reopen and incorporate all of your feedback. These findings will then inform how we can strengthen and improve reporting structures.
We are partnering with a leading workplace culture consultant who specializes in organizational development and change to develop a rollout plan for our concern resolution process designed to enhance venue level communications that will also include training on manager coaching and concern resolution at the local level.
At the same time, we are setting up a one-stop helpline that brings all of our communication channels to one helpline that will also help us track data, and learn from trends.
Alamo Drafthouse will have to enact its changes with significantly less staff. On March 16, Alamo announced that it would furlough 80 percent of its corporate staff and virtually all theater staff members as it closed 40 locations. In early July, the chain moved into full-scale layoffs, with one source estimating that more than 80 employees were let go on the corporate side alone, not including personnel such as projectionists, event managers, or local theater managers. Today’s story alleges that many Kansas City employees were offered a $500 severance and an NDA that many declined to sign.